Rosie Radeke firmly believes that happiness can be found at the bottom of a mixing bowl. But she never expected that she, a random nobody from East Liberty, Ohio, would be accepted to celebrity chef Denis Laurent’s school in Paris, the most prestigious cooking program for teens in the entire world. Life in Paris, however, isn’t all cream puffs and crepes. Faced with a challenging curriculum and a nightmare professor, Rosie begins to doubt her dishes.
Henry Yi grew up in his dad’s restaurant in Chicago, and his lifelong love affair with food landed him a coveted spot in Chef Laurent’s school. He quickly connects with Rosie, but academic pressure from home and his jealousy over Rosie’s growing friendship with gorgeous bad-boy baker Bodie Tal makes Henry lash out and push his dream girl away.
Desperate to prove themselves, Rosie and Henry cook like never before while sparks fly between them. But as they reach their breaking points, they wonder whether they have what it takes to become real chefs.
Perfect for lovers of Chopped Teen Tournament and Kids Baking Championship, as well as anyone who dreams of a romantic trip to France, Love à la Mode follows Rosie and Henry as they fall in love with food, with Paris, and ultimately, with each other.
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The girl across the aisle was staring at him.
At first, Henry had thought it was an accident. Maybe she'd just looked his way randomly, or maybe he'd imagined it, but it wasn't an accident, and he hadn't imagined it. She was definitely staring at him. Well, maybe at him wasn't totally right, but definitely near him. Her eyes were fixed somewhere around his hands, which were holding the latest issue of Lucky Peach magazine. It was weird.
She hadn't been staring when he'd gotten on the plane. She'd been sitting there first, which made sense, because Henry had been one of the last people in boarding group four to file in. He'd decided that, yes, the mini Oreos and the Teddy Grahams were both good snack choices, so he'd circled back around to Hudson News to get the Grahams, too, and had almost missed his boarding group.
Henry hadn't noticed the girl because she was pretty — even though she was. At first he'd just seen a white girl around his age sitting across the aisle from him, but when he looked again, he'd noticed her crazy-big brown eyes and the thick toffee-colored braid resting on one shoulder. It was the exact same color as the peanut butter toffee Henry had gotten once at the Wicker Park Farmers Market and had never been able to find again. But he'd noticed her because she was just sitting. Calmly. Patiently. Like she was waiting for something. Not on her phone or on an iPad or flipping through a magazine like almost everyone else he'd passed, but just sitting there. She was still sitting, but now she was staring at him. Well, near him.
Henry tried to wedge himself farther into the aisle, trying to get away from the people next to him. Yes, his elbow had been bumped by the flight attendants twice already, but a bruised elbow was vastly preferable to what was going on next to him in 22A and 22B.
"We're on our honeymoon!" 22A and 22B had announced proudly, Mrs. 22B waving a giant diamond inches from Henry's nostrils. They had then proceeded to practically merge into one person, giggling and kissing, and now Henry was the unwilling third wheel in their relationship.
Man. Eight hours was a long flight no matter what the circumstances, but being stuck next to 22A and 22B was truly cruel and unusual. It wasn't the longest flight Henry had been on — that had been when his family had gone on vacation to Hawaii, and that had also been an excruciating trip. His little sister, Alice, had won "Halfway to Hawaii" and wouldn't stop gloating about the bag of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts she'd been awarded as a prize for correctly guessing the exact time their flight hit the halfway point. She hadn't let Henry eat any of them, and she'd eventually left them in the back seat of their rental car, where they fused into one giant melted nutty chocolate blob. Mom threw the bag out. On the flight back to Chicago, when Henry had fallen asleep on the plane, Alice had drawn purple zoo animals all over his arms. In marker.
But in eight hours, he'd presumably be purple marker–free — unless 22A and 22B had other tricks up their sleeves besides surviving without oxygen — and he'd be in Paris. Paris. Henry still couldn't believe he was really going to Paris. And not just going to Paris on vacation, but to study there. To live there. To cook there. For the next nine months, Henry wouldn't be just another random Chicago junior. He'd be a chef-in-training at the École Denis Laurent, the most prestigious cooking program for high school students on the planet. It still sounded unreal when he thought about it, like some place that couldn't possibly exist, but it was real, and he was going. Henry couldn't wait to trade the brown rice and bulgogi he served at his parents' restaurant for boeuf bourguignon and béchamel. There wasn't anything wrong with bulgogi — he was just ready for something different.
Henry wouldn't miss standing behind the register all weekend, every weekend, but he'd miss the kitchen. His earliest memories were of sitting on the counter, swinging his legs. "Taste," Dad would say, and Henry would open his mouth, for a meltingly rich mouthful of pork belly, or the sweet tang of pickled carrots, or the salty brine of a still-raw shrimp. It was Dad who taught Henry to eat, and then to cook. Because you have to know how to eat before you can know how to cook.
So Dad was the first person Henry told about the program in Paris, when he'd discovered that Chef Laurent took twenty high school juniors to live and train at his cooking school every year. Henry had pulled up the website excitedly, heart hammering in his chest like he'd found a lottery ticket on the sidewalk. And in a way, he kind of had. The website was full of the accolades of graduates of the program, graduates who had James Beard nominations and featured spots at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen and well-reviewed restaurants that Henry recognized by name alone, the kind of places you'd have to book a reservation a year in advance. The kind of place that Henry dreamed of running someday. The kind of place Henry could run, once his year at the École guaranteed him a stage — kind of like an internship — in any kitchen he wanted and ensured his future. Henry could still feel Dad's hand on his shoulder, almost an electric current running between them as they checked out the website together.
Dad loved Chef Laurent. Maybe even more than Henry did. "The only person on the Food Network who's still cooking," he'd say proudly, like Chef Laurent was his other son. Henry and Dad watched a lot of Food Network. Mom had no patience for it. "The last thing I'd ever want to watch is other people cooking," she liked to say, shaking her head in disbelief. "Don't we see enough of that every day?"
Mom liked crime procedurals. Henry didn't understand how watching people get chopped up and stashed in boxes was more relaxing that watching Chef Laurent sweat some onions in his bright French farmhouse kitchen, but sometimes Henry felt like there was a lot he didn't understand about his mom.
"You don't have to go, you know." That's what she'd said. What she'd chosen to say after Henry had tried to hug Alice — she'd acquiesced half-heartedly — as his family stood on the sidewalk by the departures drop-off at O'Hare Airport, when they were supposed to be saying good-bye. Like Henry was just going to turn around and get back in the car. Like this wasn't everything he'd ever wanted.
She'd tried to backpedal, to say that even if he did go, it could just be a thing he did that looked great for college. That he didn't have to be a chef. She didn't want Henry "trapped in a restaurant for the rest of his life" — her words, not his. Henry didn't understand how someone who had knowingly married a chef could take such a dim view of running a restaurant, but as Mom liked to say, you didn't run a restaurant, it ran you. Mom wanted Henry to do something, anything, that didn't involve chopping vegetables. Henry was pretty sure Mom would prefer he cultivate a career cleaning up toxic waste — provided he had a degree from a four-year college. And preferably if he wore a suit while doing so.
This wasn't the first time they'd had this fight, and it wouldn't be the last. He knew it would come back over and over, like the refrain in that awful cello piece Alice wouldn't stop practicing. What would it take, he wondered, to get Mom on board? The École hadn't been enough. A stage at Alinea? A James Beard Award? A Food Network show of his own? Cookbooks with his face on them and kitchen utensils with his name on them and a fast casual restaurant in O'Hare? Whatever it was, he'd do it. And then she'd see.
Henry flipped to the next page in his magazine, and the girl gasped, loud enough that he heard her over the drone of the engine and the sucking noises of 22A and 22B. He looked up, and they made eye contact, and the girl blushed the exact same color as the end-of-season raspberries he'd bought from Mick Klug Farms at the farmers' market the Sunday before he left. Why was everything about this girl making him think about food? He must not have bought enough plane snacks.
"I'm so sorry," she said, although her voice was so quiet, it was more of a whisper. "Oh my gosh. I'm so sorry."
Henry stifled a laugh at "oh my gosh." He couldn't remember the last time he'd heard someone say "gosh."
"It's okay," he said.
"No. No it's not. Oh my gosh."
"Seriously. No worries."
"I was reading over your shoulder, and that was rude, and creepy, probably, and I definitely shouldn't have been. I really am sorry."
"It's fine. Really. Stop apologizing."
"Sorry," she said again. "I mean — not sorry. Sorry. Argh!" she exclaimed. "Saying sorry for saying sorry is like that snake eating its tail. You can't get out of it. It's linguistic quicksand."
They looked at each other, and Henry was struck again by her eyes — the exact color of tempered chocolate. Perfectly tempered chocolate. Again with the food? What was wrong with him? He must have been hungry. Too hungry. He reached into the open bag of mini Oreos in his seatback pocket, grabbed a fistful, and shoved them in his mouth.
Mistake. He started chewing madly, but the Oreo mass seemed unconquerable. The girl probably thought he was crazy. Why couldn't he swallow these Oreos? How were there so many of them? Henry chewed in panic as he contemplated the girl. What should he do now? He should offer her some. Right? Definitely. It was only the polite thing to do. Otherwise, he was being rude and gross.
He held the bag out across the aisle. He smiled, then realized there was almost no way his teeth weren't decorated by a fine coat of Oreo crumbs and quickly closed his lips. Henry was leering like the Grinch with chipmunk cheeks full of Oreos, and he had never felt more stupid. But he must not have looked entirely deranged, because, tentatively, the girl reached her hand in, and took out exactly three mini Oreos. Like a normal person.
Finally, Henry swallowed and cast about desperately for a new conversation topic. He jammed the Oreos back into his seat pocket — fat chance of him eating those again anytime soon — and looked down at his magazine. His magazine! That was a thing they could talk about.
"Wow." Henry whistled. "That's quite a cake. I would have gasped too."
Henry had never seen a person literally light up before, but that's what this girl did. And now he was staring. Which he definitely needed to stop immediately. So Henry looked down at his magazine again. It was quite a cake. Three layers of cake interspersed with layers of jam and frosting — no, not frosting, lemon cheesecake, according to the caption — and topped with pickled strawberry icing and a ring of what looked like crumbled cookies. The sides were exposed so they could see every delicious layer.
"It — it's Christina Tosi, isn't it?" she said shyly. "The exposed sides of the cake. That's her thing. And the milk crumbs on top. I recognize them, from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook."
Henry looked closer — she was right. They weren't cookies.
"Milk crumbs?" he asked, trying to imagine what a milk crumb could be.
"They're made with milk powder and white chocolate. Really good. You're not supposed to eat them on their own, I don't think, they mostly go in or on other things, but they're so good I always save a few to snack on. What flavor's the cake?"
"Strawberry lemon." Henry was staring at her again. He'd never seen someone's face look like that when talking about pastry before. Not even his dad when he talked about the cinnamon buns at Ann Sather.
"Mmm. Strawberry lemon. That sounds good. That one's not in the cookbook. I've only made the apple pie cake and the birthday cake, of course. I make that one every year for Owen's birthday. My brother," she clarified. "Although ..." She chewed her lip distractedly. "I'm not sure what he's gonna do this year. His birthday's in November. Maybe Mom will make him the Funfetti cake. You know, from the mix. Like I did. Before I knew about Christina Tosi."
She went back to chewing on her lip. Henry hadn't known that someone chewing on her lip could be quite so distracting.
"You can have it," he blurted out.
"What?" she asked.
"The magazine. You can have my magazine." Henry held it out across the aisle eagerly. Too eagerly.
"Oh, no, I couldn't —"
"No, I can't —"
"Take it." He shook it at her insistently. It was suddenly incredibly, vitally important that the girl take his magazine. "Take it. Please take it."
"I — I — When you're done reading it," she said firmly. "It's Lucky Peach, right? I've never seen a paper copy before. I've only read it online."
Henry nodded and put the magazine back on his tray table, wondering how he could possibly read it knowing she would have it after him. What if he left a sweat print? What if there were chocolate stains on the earlier pages? Had he drooled into his magazine, somehow? Who knew what horrors he'd left behind, lurking within those innocent pages? Was there an embarrassing way to read a magazine? Probably. And he'd probably been doing it the whole time.
"I just have one question — sorry."
Henry looked up, and the girl smiled at him apologetically. Henry smiled back, probably in a lame way. Why was everything he did so lame?
"Just one question before I let you finish reading. Sorry. I mean, I'm not sorry." She cleared her throat and shook her head. "I'm just curious. Does it say if she used an offset spatula to ice the top layer? Ateco, I'm assuming? Did it say what size the blade is?"
And that was the moment Henry started to worry that he might have fallen in love.CHAPTER 2
Rosie couldn't remember the last time she'd talked to a boy she didn't know. She'd known every guy in her class since kindergarten, or earlier. And sure, it wasn't like East Liberty was so small that Rosie recognized every single person who browsed next to her in the aisles at Walmart, but she recognized a lot of them. Rosie couldn't run an errand or grab a pop somewhere or even walk down to the mailbox without being stopped for a "How's your mom?" or a "When's that brother of yours gonna stop playing soccer and start kicking for the football team?" Didn't matter which brother. They were convinced that any one of Rosie's four brothers was the missing piece that would guarantee East Liberty's long-awaited championship win. Even Owen, and he was still years away from high school.
Maybe that's why Rosie was so nervous, talking to this boy. Maybe that was why she'd apologized so many times. And said gosh way too many times, just like her nana. Rosie was never nervous talking to any of the boys at school, not even when Brady Gill had asked her to homecoming last year, and he was a year older. But she'd known him because he played soccer with Cole and Ricky, her older brothers, and there was nothing particularly exciting or nerve-wracking about talking to him. The boys at school were taller than they'd been in kindergarten, sure, and some of them had developed muscles they definitely hadn't had when they were five, but other than that? They were pretty much the same.
But this boy was a surprise. The Lucky Peach magazine was intriguing, of course, but Rosie also found herself fascinated by him. He was so hot she almost couldn't look directly at him, but found herself staring at the most random things, like the short-trimmed dark hairs at the nape of his neck as he bent over to read. And the straight line of his forearms when he pushed up his sleeves. And his long, tapered fingers with cut-short nails, crisscrossed by faded burns and the scarred mementoes of cuts long gone. Not unlike her fingers, actually.
His hands. The magazine. Rosie realized with a sudden jolt, a jolt that inexplicably caused her pulse to speed up and a distinctly uncomfortable, clammy feeling to start at her temples and spread toward her neck, that this boy was almost definitely heading to Paris for Chef Laurent's École. He had to be, right? She'd only seen hands like that on the guys who worked at Cracker Barrel with Mom. They were chef 's hands.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Love À La Mode"
Copyright © 2018 Stephanie Kate Strohm.
Excerpted by permission of Disney Book Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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